Karl Fousek: Pattern Variation

by Bret Schneider


Kark Fousek apparently emerges out of two traditions: American minimalism (á la Steve Reich), and modular synth music (á la Keith Fullerton Whitman). Both of these traditions have been proven uncritical ‘winners’, so to speak—minimalism is now endlessly listenable (paradoxically to some), while modular synth experimentation seems be at the cutting edge of electronic music for reasons too many to expound upon here. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Fousek’s project is the synthesis of these two aesthetic sensibilities, and Pattern Variation comes closer than anything to exemplifying this marriage. The aesthetic is one consisting of arpeggiated, pseudo-melodic tones. Pattern Variation is an apt name in that the 6 works here permute through various patterns, albeit using operations and procedures that are not as explicit as in minimalism (e.g. clarified phase patterning), and are enigmatic to the listener because they are inevitably idiosyncratic. This enigmatic aspect (probably even so to Fousek himself) is part of the reason the variations often foster such a thicket of patterns that are as confusing as they are compelling. 

Like much new experimental electronic music, Fousek is the result of a generation of ‘sound artists’ who find it necessary to return to the origins of electronic music. Likewise, Keith Fullerton Whitman’s oeuvre may be undoubtedly ‘new’, but this is specifically by virtue of interpreting electronic music history (e.g. Laurie Spiegel). Fousek is an artist in this vein, but perhaps without the burden of needing to justify his work by referencing specific historical examples. Despite this, Pattern Variation gets to the historical core of electronic music by focusing on the relationship between tonality and percussion, one of the key defining principles originating with Stockhausen’s theory of time. By focusing almost exclusively on a palette that serves the same function of the primal impulse generator, Fousek explores what it means to make electronic music in all of its limitations, because in it’s very core electronic music was a tendentious theory put into practice. While we forget the basics of electronic music amidst a swathe of effects in an industry that obscures it’s raison d’être, Fousek’s project is inevitably one of making the listener re-feel the newness inhering in the idea of electronic music. This it can only do by being problematic, and showing the limitations at the core of electronic music, which is why Pattern Variation focus myopically on the phenomena of expansion and contraction, attempting to extract what it can from this framework. It works quite hard at doing so, implementing delays that themselves capture the impulse patters and refract it throughout the sound spectrum. It creates a wonderful zoetrope-like effect, albeit without trickery—quite the opposite, all the tricks are laid unusually bare. It is to the great credit of Fousek’s project that such possibilities and limitations are in the midst of being exhausted, because electronic music today truly has a pathetic side, even though this is hard to see amidst it’s great ‘resurgence’ today. This pathos is already exhausted without being fully realized. The routinization of electronic music has done little to qualify what we feel may be it’s importance. Intentionally or not, by stripping the veils to reveal electronic music’s problematic essence, Pattern Variation allows listeners to decide for themselves whether or not electronic music is at all important. It grants access to that moment in history when electronic music might not have been. This re-feeling is part of our own moment itself, and by foreclosing some possibilities points to others. However much Fousek may emerge out of two staid traditions or tendencies, he makes music that appeals to a highly self-conscious listening experience. And this seems important.

 Cover of  Pattern Variation .

Cover of Pattern Variation.